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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  October 21, 2012 5:30am-6:15am EDT

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>> thank you, dan. thank you, ladies and gentlemen for this wonderful crowd, which is a great tribute to the
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concept of the festival. it's my first -- >> [inaudible] >> pardon? >> [inaudible] >> okay. my first experience here and a pleasure to be here. the book is "george f. kennan: an american life," and as dan mentioned, it took 30 years to write. you might wonder why that's the case. i can point out in my defense that i have actually taken a shorter period of time to write my life of george kennan than robert caro took to write his life on lyndon johnson. [applause] but, of course, he's written four volumes at this point, and i've only done one. one other point, by way of comparison between the two presidents, robert caro does not have to explain who lyndon
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johnson was. sometimes i have to explain who george kennan was because he was never president of the united states. he was never secretary of state. his highest level position in government of the as ambassador to the soviet union and to yugoslavia. he, himself, would have -- [dogs barking] [laughter] he, himself, would have said these were failed ambassadorships, and, so, why a book on the life of george? my answer, and it's only my answer, it would not be universally agreed with, seems it me, is it's good to write a book about someone who saved western civilization, and while it may be something of an exaggeration to say george kennan saved western civilization, if you think it through, there is a case to be
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made in this regard because all civilization, in fact, was in peril in the half decade or so of the cold war. anyone in washington predigging some 50 years ago when nuclear weapons reefed lethal proportions on both sides, anyone predicting with confidence that we were going to get out of this alive would have had an uphill battle to make that prediction, and surveys that were taken in that age suggested that most americans fully expected to die in a nuclear war. now, a lot of people contributed to that fortunate outcome to the fact it did not happen. george kennan is by no means alone in that regard, but i think he was critical in coming up with the idea with the grand strategy of how that catastrophe could have been avoided because at the time that he began to
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rise in influence in the united states foreign service, the period at the end of world war ii, first couple of years of the cold war, the prevailing view in washington and in other western capitals was that there were only two choices in confronting the soviet union, clearly, no longer going to be an ally in the way it had been an ally in world war ii. there were those who said hitler is -- stalin is another hitler, and we have to simply prepare for war with the soviet union. there were those who said that war would be catastrophic if fought so the only solution is to appease stalin, cut some kind of deal with stalin. neither was a good example, a good proposal. nobodiments to fight another -- nobody wants to fight another war in that situation. apiecement is discredited from the experiences of the 1930s.
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could there be a middle path between war and apiecement? this was the concept that george kennan, himself, more than any other individual within the united states government worked # out in the period between 1945 and 1946. he's still relatively obscure foreign service officer serving in the embassy in moscow, is brought back to set up the curriculum at the newton national bar college, and then, of course, of the two critical years, works out a scheme, which came to be known as the strategy of containment which operated on the proposition that time was on the side of the west. where marx said of capitalism that it contains so many internal contradictions that it eventually destroys itself,
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kennan flipped marx on his head saying it's true of the soviet system. communism ideology does not fit russian national character, and in time, the russian people will, themselves, overthrow communism. whether that will happen as a revolution coming up from below or whether it will happen as a result of a leader realizing from above that communism does not fit russian culture, kennan was not sure. he was not sure how long this would take. sometimes he said 15 years; sometimes he said 20-25 years; sometimes he disparked -- dispaired of it ever happening, but this was the vision, this was the idea he had. time was on our side. if we could afford to be patient, if we could keep ourselves under control, if we could build up our side of the geopolitical balance, orchestrating the economic
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recovery of western europe, the marshall plan and several other things, if we could simply hold the then, then in time, the soviet system would from the weight of its own internal contradictions implode, and it would do so peacefully, and a war would not be necessary. that's the vision of 1946, 1947, not a bad prediction actually of what wound up happening between 1987 and 1991 if you think about it. that's a pretty good anticipation of that, but one of the nings i've been interested in as someone who teached grand strategy, and how they could see that far into the future and make that prediction in the first place? did this come from the careful study of international relations theory? did it come from the detailed readings of the diplomatic history?
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what i found very much to my surprise is that it came from neither. it came from reading great books. this brings us around to why we're here today. it came from reading great books of russian literature, not in the soviet period. there were not that many, yet, in this period about the soviet era, but the great literature, the great literary classics of 19th century russia which one of the first trained experts in the american foreign service was able to read in the original, his russian was better than that of many russians themselves, they wiewld often say. he used his time as a young man training in the foreign service to study the culture of 19th century russia, to study through the literature of 19th century and very early pre-revolutionary
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pre-20th century russia and draw certain conclusions about russian national character, russian culture from that. who were the authors that he read? well, they are the obvious suspects. certainly, -- someone else who was most influential, who you might have thought least probable in russian literary heros, and this is chekov. it's very interesting when george kennan gave the first academic lecture at an american university, this is in october of 1946, he's invited to yale. i'm happy to say, to speak, but he spends about a third of his time very much to the puzzlement of his hosts talking not about
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the cold war or the soviet union or containment, but about chekov. why would he talk about chekov and what's the connection to containment in his mind? well, the connection was this. chekov had written a story, a short story, called "the new villa," and the short story was about a landlady, the mysteries of an an estate who wanted to build a school on a hill, and, of course, needed the help of the locals, needed the help of the pes cants to build the -- peasants to build the school. building the school would be hard work, involved moving rocks off the top of the hill, involved cutting down trees for line lumber. it was going to involve a lot of energy and organization, and, of course, famously, in 19th century russia, peasants are not easy to organize. it's a recurring theme, of course in the great russian literary works in fact 19th
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century, and so the mysteries of the estates in chekov's story walks away fearing that this can never be done, the schoolhouse can never be build built, but the village blacksmith takes pity on the mysteries of the estates, follows her down the path, and says, don't worry, give if time. let them get used to the idea. maybe it'll take two years. maybe it'll take four years. maybe it'll take ten years or so, but if you let the pes cants, themselves, come around to the idea it's a good thing to have a school in this village, they will cheerfully and eagerly do the work. it is simply you can't tell them what they have to decide they want. that's the principle. from this, kennane plained this is how we have to handle the soviet union. we understand that this system
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is contradictory, that the system is not going to succeed, that this system, even at that point, 1940s, but certainly in the future, is going to suffer from all kinds of factors that are going to make it unworkable, but the role of the united states must not be to try to overthrow that system. the role of the united states must be to try to hold the line in the world so that the russian people, themselves, could come around to the idea that they wish to change the system themselves peacefully. that's the key to it. i'm fascinated at this concept that underlies centrally the entire strategy of containment as practiced by the united states and by its western allies through the whole last half of the cold war. i'm fascinated that this came from a chekov short story. what does this say about how we
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should be training young people today? how does this affect how we should be thinking about training leaders today? we debate these questions quite a lot at yale. i can tell you. we're pretty confident that we are training in one way or another, whether well or badly, a lot of future leaders at a place like this, and so we worry about way we put into their heads. we worry about what kind of training we can give them. they get training in the social sciences. they get training in the trendy topics like migration, for example, or environmental studies or psychologies of leadership, all of this kind of thirng. what we think they don't get enough of, and what we are trying to remedy in the course that we teach my colleagues, charlie hill and paul kennedy, and i on grand strategy at yale,
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is exposure to the great classical works because there is a reason why people come back to the classics. we go as far back if our course as homer and others. there is a reason why people come back to these works. that is, they contain elemental observations that apply across time, space, and, i think, also scale whether at the top level of leadership or in someone's own personal life. the chekov story, how kennan used chekov as the key to the grand strategic insight in saving civilization. or at least orchestrating the strategy of containment, is, i think, a beautiful illustration for the necessity for including the great classics, the great books in the training of any leader, whatever the leadership
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role is, that person is aiming for. that's really my message this afternoon, the great books are relevant. i found them to be extraordinary relevant in writing about the great man whose biography i had just finished writing. it caused me to think about the question, are we putting enough emphasis on not just books, but the great books, the great classical books, the books that some people may erroneously think are out of date, but i can assure you, ladies and gentlemen, they are not. that's where i want to stop and see if that's generated any questions. [applause] >> yes, sir? >> what did you learn about the cold war, does it kind of apply
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to the situation as we have in the middle east now? especially iran i'm interested in. >> the question was how does what we learn from the cold war apply in situations like the middle east and particularly what we have in iran. the idea of containment i think may be app -- applicable to iran, and it's been practiced at this point to try to orchestrate a strategy of containment because we can all see that iranian society contains great contradictions within it, and if, in fact, time is on our side, in that situation, then kennan's containment strategy makes sense. the question is is time on our side? kennan was careful to make a connection. he said containment would not have worked against hitler
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because hitler had a timetable. stalin had no timetable. if you can answer for me where iran falls into that category, i can offer you a book contract right away. [laughter] ..
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how gorbachev was the first to go to college since lenin and gorbachev studied law. there's a difference between -- they grew up with russian culture. gorbachev knew the russian countries. not as though they had to study in school many of these things and they were still in their culture. it came instinctively. very much as american culture would be instinctive with us. we can understand american culture without even reading huckleberry finn although it helps to read huckleberry finn. that is my first answer. on the institute for events that the goerge of never actually came to princeton but can and met gorbachev. the first trip to the united states which is here. december 1987 to sign the intermediate nuclear forces treaty and there's the big
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reception at the soviet embassy for gorbachev. cannon had been kicked out of the soviet union by stalin in 1952, is invited to come to the soviet embassy to meet gorbachev and corporate of immediately recognized him, embraced him and pays him an extraordinarily handsome tribute which kennan always remembered. it was something like this. mr. kennan, we in our country and its stand that someone can be a patriots in another country but at the same time be a great friend of our country and that is how we regard you. just the right thing to have said. whereupon there was a very long gorbachev speech. george sat down at a table with a lot of other luminaries. he was seated next to his strange looking woman who had purple long fingernails and was
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smoking a cigarette, chain-smoking. goerge's hearing was beginning to go. this was 1987 but someone told him he is the widow of lenin. how could she be the widow of lenin and he came home puzzled by this and asked his secretary and they say you have not met yoko ono. [laughter] >> you mentioned the key to kennan's analysis and effort was the russian national character eventually given time would overthrow the soviet communist system. given the fact that the soviet communist party had no intention of that happening, and had as
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one of their principal agendas to transform the russian national character, did kennan have any misgivings that this project was not going to succeed? that they would win first? >> kennan experience -- through his life never free of misgivings about just about everything including himself. one of the big ones was time on our side for this process to take place. and his concern about nuclear weapons which begins to develop in the 1940s and continued throughout his life was one of the great questions in his mind. he became a stiff and strong critic of american foreign policy because of the emphasis on nuclear deterrence we began to place and he regarded as highly dangerous. when gorbachev finally emerged
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at the top in the soviet union kennan was interviewed and the president came up for professor kennan, how can you explain the emergence of gorbachev, so different from previous soviet leaders? george said i can't. he was very honest about this. he was as surprised as anybody else was. i had occasion to remind him on many occasions that if he had read what he said back in the 1930s and 1940s it is certainly the case that he foresaw a process that could produce a leader like gorbachev. the problem is george had the same problem i have which is i can't remember what i said 20 or 30 years ago. my students are often reminded me you said this than. yale alumni are even worse about this and i am totally clueless.
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>> in 1991 pope john paul ii made the arguments communism in particular and socialism in general fail for anthropological reasons. contrary to lehman nature. curious what you thought about a broader argument. russian culture being one facet of it from kennan's perspective and your own. >> i have great respect for the pope to begin with. that is a pretty fundamental insight which seems pretty obvious to us now but i think one of the great obligations of a teacher and a historian is to find out the things that were not obvious back then. that is the way i would answer that question. in fact i am teaching a big lecture course right now and i am instructing my t as to get students to see why people thought differently back then. on this issue there were plenty
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of people in eastern europe, in the soviet union itself, even in western europe and the united states who were disillusioned with capitalism and democracy and believe that communism command economy is an authoritarian systems where the wave of the future and if you live as some of you did through the generation or through the decade of the 1930s one democracy and capitalism were failing on a global scale there would have been reason to admire what was going on in the soviet union with the five year plan and no unemployment. it looks like that society might have the solution. the problem is it did not wear well. it turned brutal. the problem is there was no accountability. there were no safeguards. what started out with the best of intentions, what was compelling enough that millions
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of people were willing to die for it as they did in the soviet union in world war ii, nonetheless turned out to be a big disappointment. there is a lesson here. planning is ultimately tricky, sometimes dangerous. for any human being to develop the hubris to say i can plan the life of any other human being and particular of the of millions of human beings is in seems to me the height of arrogance and because it is the height of arrogance there are only two ways out. one is to admit you are wrong and the other is to shoot anybody who says you are wrong. that was the option that stalin the not his successes ultimately chose. i circled back to democracy and capitalism as being certainly messier than -- systems.
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ultimately more humane and i suspect that is what the pope had in mind. >> do you think the cold war is a phenomenon unique to the 20th century and the ideological conflict spawned during that or is it something we will see in this century when two countries with nuclear weapons and an adversarial relationship find the other in a hostile relationship? >> good question. part of the way to understand it is the cold war was not the first cold war. there are plenty of other examples in history of nations that were hostile to each other and accumulated a lot of arms but never went to war with one another or at least not for quite a long time. britain and the united states are good example. there was the unpleasantness in 1812. i was talking to a distinguished british historian the other night and he said we have
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forgotten that. it is possible to have these kinds of rivalries and international relations theory which is about the balance of power suggests this is what is going on when power is being balanced whether among two great powers for among several great powers, it is the cold war and sometimes cold peace for somewhere in between. the soviet america rivalry is not likely to be replicated, the fact that two great powers dominated the world and the person to thank for that is adolf hitler moved by destroying the capacity of the europeans to act as great powers created a power vacuum into which europeans and russians moved but that was a distinctive development and i don't see anything comparable to that happening. i certainly do not see the
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sino-american relationship as being anything like that. i think also nuclear-weapons as an instrument of power for great powers is not nearly as significant as it used to be. the great powers, whether wisely or simply because they were lucky learned that there aren't that many things you can do with a lot of thermonuclear weapons. what good does it do to blow up your competitor if involved process you are blowing up yourself as well? the limits to violence, the recognition that there have to be limits to violence is one of the great unstated achievements of the cold war. both sides worked themselves around to. the likelihood -- the likelihood of a giant nuclear war that people feared in the cold war is extremely remote now. the likelihood of some nuclear weapon being used somewhere is i
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think actually greater because of nuclear proliferation but it won't be 10,000 weapons being used simultaneously. it will just be one or two and that is a big improvement over the condition we face in the cold war for sure. >> i am a student studying the great strategic adviser -- beyond his unique perspective and using russian classics what other traits or capabilities could you see of him that made him a great strategic adviser and do you see any person that is the next theorists to give a grant theory for the multi polar world we currently live in? >> as a privilege of speaking in february, one of the things i found myself saying is george kennan was a great thing for an intellectual and historian, and had a powerful impact on
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american thinking in the cold war i would not call him a great adviser. that is something else again. a great advisor is someone who is able to work with other people, to work with superior and subordinate officers. and agrees adviser is someone who is able to give advice if the advice is not taken to bounce with that flow and come back and see what does the boss really want and what do we do next? a great adviser if his ideas are rejected does not emulate achilles and go off and sulk in his tent and that is what george did on many occasions. people who had to work with him, people like dean acheson particularly but many other people found him very difficult on a day-to-day basis to work with because once policy was settled it was not settled in george's mind.
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he was always trying to reconsider. that is much more of an academic temperament than an advisor temperament and the academy specifically institute for defense study was the better place for him than the state department in the long run and he would have agreed with that statement. >> i have a friend i will quote, the best war is the one that isn't fox. the cold war in some sense was a good war. but there were other wars are around the edge of it. and i am thinking of vietnam since i am of that age and if your comments, the lesson you took from kennan's reading check of --checkhov great book about russian culture and one of the
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great books that i expect i have read some that may be were good books about the vietnam culture. what are the great books we should be reading about islamic culture, iranian culture? it seems to me we don't know enough about that great set of books. we know the western books. >> my answer would be among those that you talked about who don't know enough about those topics i would include myself. not feeling qualified to give you a recommendation on that. i am not sure there is a consensus yet on what the great books would be to read. i would simply say this is where exploration is needed and exploration should include works of history and works of strategy and works of fiction as well. and what one needs to look for
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in searching out such books is the quality of timelessness. does the book in question transfer well over time? when you said at the outlook that the first -- the best war is the one that was never fought what popped into my mind was exactly the same language coming from sun tzu in the chinese strategic tradition. that is how i look for a classic work that somehow people keep coming back to it but maybe it is too early to find that work in the other cultures that you mentioned. maybe not enough know the languages to do this. i would call your attention to what i think is the really great achievement of henry kissinger's book last year on china because this is someone who spent his career wrestling with china but at the age of 87 or so, now 89
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decided to try to learn something about the culture of china and reconsider his own record in the light of what he learned. he certainly had good help in writing that book and it has been fascinating to listen to him rethink his own experiences in china and the light of that 2500 year history of the riding of strategy, things are now so much clearer to me than they were when i was having to deal with these issues. when it is possible to do that it is well worth the time. >> as of former students of envy you there's an argument to be made that the 20 first century, history is moving faster than in the latter half of the 20th-century. as i see a great deal of bandwidth with an executive
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agencies trying to get their arms around grand strategies the personal develop strategies for the long-term i can't help but question what a waste of resources because the strategic environment so quickly changes. >> i don't buy the argument that history has speeded up. if you think about the size of airplanes as an example. airplane technology. the planes will fly across the atlantic, the structure of those is what it has been for half a century. think of the half century before that when there were no airplanes and look at the impact those changes have. every age has certain technologies that make history look like it is eating a.
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communications technology is that for our age. i can guarantee you it proceeds at the same pace always. it just blocks different in that regard. because of the new changes in communications technology it is possible for us to know much more about what is going on around world instantaneously and that clogs the brain and slows the synapses to have that much information coming in. we have known for a long time that the dangers of having too much information and therefore not being able to think. one of the case studies we study in the grand strategy course is the career of philip ii of spain and the spanish armada and the constitution with elizabeth i and philip's problem was he insisted on running the entire spanish empire himself personally. he never had time to think or sleep or anything else. that is what the new technology has pushed us into.
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i think we will learn in time to cope with it. the obvious answer which neither my wife nor i have mastered yet is to turn off the machine that a certain point in the day. but i think eventually we will adjust to it. in the context of these other technological changes that i have mentioned which give the appearance that history is speeding up. >> in your discussion of chekhov you noted the idea that russia was perhaps better than russian. it gave me an introspective question. it -- is america a culture? an idea? is the culture or idea of america better than americans and what do we need to do to make those two come together? >> i don't think you are getting at culture if you say it is
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better than people. i think culture is people. and i think the embarrassing things about america is as much part of american culture as the things we are proud of. kennan would say the same is true of russian culture. it is all culture and is extremely important to study that and to do it in the right way. all i am saying is trust the classics. i was in a meeting just on thursday with a colleague, planning of the curriculum for the first group of students who are going to be joined to the new yale campus in singapore and before they go there they will come to yale for five weeks or three weeks in the summer. my colleague and i have been given a week and we decide what
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we teach in the first face. we would start with a homer and the embassy, to achilles demonstrating them -- and the story of the trojan horse demonstrating employment and surprise and crafts. we do machiavelli has a way of illustrating two faces pursue interests that require that. but the state must reflect bringing in morality and the two are uneasily balanced. we are going to use the idea of perpetual peace and the transparency of republics but we
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are going to pare emanual kant with walt whitman. and subject to revision is to require every line of moby dick. this is not be. charlie hill, and in five minutes, it is perfect for these kids. it is time for one more. >> i wanted to ask about what your thoughts are of francis k fukiya fukiyama's theory about democracy being inevitable and how that relates to non say actors that we state in today's world? >> theorists who say their
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theories are inevitable, my theory is they are inevitably wrong. that is the problem with pherae. it is only half of reality. reality operates and subvert its theory and that is the importance of studying history and culture. frank to the hamas --fukiyama was on to something important and it was not seen clearly by historians and that was the number of states that had gone democratic in the 20th century. the quantum jump in the number of democracies from the beginning of the century to the time he was riding which was 1989 or so when the first iteration of that article. that is the kind of thing that is so big it is easy not to see it and i credit him and other
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fierce for seeing that. i questioned them that they turn a general -- generalization about the past into a prediction about the future. that is highly dangerous. that is how theory goes wrong and get actually had. it is one of the rare instances in which a theory of international relations influence national policy because both the clinton administration and the george h. w. bush administration operated under the premise that the movement toward democracy is inevitable throughout the world. it is a neo liberal and neo conservative idea and it does seem to me recent events properly cause us to be skeptical. i am fine with pherae when it exposes patterns in history. i have a big problem with somebody who says those patterns ith your address and we will send you a
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book bag. we will take some calls for "george f. kennan: an american life" -- george f. kennan. we will see what kind of questions you have for professor gaddis. here is the cover of his book "george f. kennan: an american life". we begin with ramon in laredo, texas. you are on booktv on c-span2. >> caller: a book by lester brown called state of the world's and another book called world on the edge and sustainability and the cold war coming up in the future having to do with fresh water and do you have any comments on the future of the cold war or the survival of humanity for fresh water and food? >> host: now joining us here
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next to the history and biography kent is john lewis gaddis. he is almost ready to join us and as soon as he does we will ask him that question. in new york, what is your question or comment about george f. kennan and the cold war? >> caller: my question is a follow-up to the discussion about russia. analyzing in the longer strategic and historical terms reaction to 9/11 and denny -- the security state, the surveillance that has increased, seems to be more degrees every time and furthermore

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